China’s Defence Ministry confirms reports of corps downsizing

Streamlining comes as military overhaul appears to be entering final stage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 12:14am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 12:14am

China’s Defence Ministry on Thursday formally announced that five of the PLA’s 18 army corps had been disbanded as part of the ongoing military overhaul.

Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a regular press conference in Beijing that unit numbers of the remaining 13 corps had also changed, confirming earlier reports by the South China Morning Post.

The powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) has assigned new numbers for the remaining corps, beginning at 71 and ending at 83.

“The adjustment of the formation of the new army corps is aimed at reshaping the combat units of the land forces, which is a key step towards building a capable and modern army,” Yang said.

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The drive is part of a massive restructuring of the military that Chinese President Xi Jinping, who chairs the overarching CMC, introduced in late 2015 aimed at turning the People’s Liberation Army into a more nimble and modern fighting force as China grows increasingly assertive about its sovereignty claims in the Asia-Pacific region and seeks to expand its military prowess overseas.

The 13 corps are part of the 84 newly restructured corps-level units, which also include the 15 main departments directly under the CMC, provincial military commands, military academies and universities that come directly under the Defence Ministry, and the head offices of the land, navy, air force and rocket force.

Xi addressed the chief officers of the 84 units at PLA headquarters in Beijing last week, hinting the reform project had entered the final stage.

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Xi said creation of the units was a major step towards building a world-class army that could safeguard national sovereignty, safety and interests, ­according to an earlier Xinhua report.

In September 2015, Xi announced that troop levels would be reduced by 300,000, taking the size of the fighting force to about 2 million. The units affected in the downsizing include the 20th and 27th Army Corps in the Central Theatre Command, the 14th Army Corps in the southern command, the 40th Army Corps in the north and the 47th in the west, sources told the Post last month.

Meanwhile, Yang said Senior Colonel Zhang Zhen, former captain of China’s first aircraft carrier the Liaoning, had been promoted to deputy army corps ranking official. Zhang was promoted to assistant deputy chief of the PLA Navy’s Staff Department last year.